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The opening act of Stacey Jones’ tenure as head coach had Warriors fans grasping at familiar delusions of grandeur – but after crossing twice in the early stages, they scored just one of the last nine tries of their Sunday night clash with Cronulla in Redcliffe.

The fact that we’re looking upon a 38-16 loss as an improved effort is a reflection how bad this team got following one of the most ill-advised coaching hires of recent years.

There was a decent whiff of a lift in attitude and team spirit with the club’s GOAT at the helm. Realistically, though, the Warriors’ improvements were in very tiny increments.

It’s clear the staid attack, fundamental errors and lack of defensive competency and resolve that was allowed to manifest on Nathan Brown’s watch is going to take some time – and most likely the addition of some hard-nosed and intelligent players and staff – to return to NRL standard.

Mistakes in their own half and brittle goal-line defence crippled the Warriors as they leaked five tries in the last 26 minutes of the first half. Meanwhile, Shaun Johnson again struggled to take responsibility for the Warriors’ fortunes and their undermanned middle forward contingent was outgunned by their Sharks counterparts.

The Sharks had just 45 percent possession yet chalked up 300 more running metres.

The Warriors had more than enough good ball to win the game but the overall lack of execution and imagination on attack remains a huge issue.

The Warriors capitalised on sloppy Sharks errors and penalties to race out to a 12-0 lead in even time. Displaying attacking cohesion and directness rarely seen in 2022, the playmakers’ early work with the ball was razor-sharp – but Wayde Egan’s dummy-half class was the main catalyst.

A sweet piece of deception on the last tackle near the line gave Reece Walsh the space to skip through for his first try of the season down a short side.

Soon afterwards, Egan zipped over from acting half on the back of some fine interplay between Shaun Johnson, Jack Murchie and Rocco Berry.

But the visitors hit back with back-to-back tries to trail just 12-8 before the 20-minute mark.

Sione Katoa crossed untouched after the Warriors failed to defuse a bomb near their try-line, while an inexcusable kick-off out on the full from Adam Pompey gave the Sharks the ball back with Siosifa Talakai barging over in the left-hand corner after standing up Berry.

It kept on unravelling for the Warriors, with Ben Murdoch-Masila forced off injured, Jazz Tevaga and Jack Murchie making woeful errors, and Ronaldo Mulitalo putting the Sharks in front as they exposed a tattered right-edge defence again.

After briefly steadying the ship, the Warriors crumbled again in the 34th minute following a poor Chanel Harris-Tavita fumble 20 metres out from his own line. Matt Moylan embarrassed the Warriors’ troublesome right side yet again to slide through for the Sharks’ fourth and an eight-point lead.

The Warriors bombed a try after some excellent play from Euan Aitken and the Sharks made them pay seconds out from the break. This time it was the left edge that failed to combat the super-slick Sharks spine as a deft Will Kennedy tip-on sent Katoa in for his second, the halftime score blowing out to 24-12.

Unsurprisingly, completing sets turned things around for the Warriors early in the second half.

A couple of chances went begging – predominantly due to Berry’s astonishingly low attacking IQ – before Johnson and Bayley Sironen bypassed the centre and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak produced a fantastically acrobatic finish with zero room to spare.

But a highly dodgy Bunker call restored the Sharks’ 12-point lead.

Mulitalo was awarded his second in a line-ball decision despite it being sent up no try.

Any hopes of a comeback win went out the window with 17 minutes to go when Walsh, whose game frayed noticeably in the second half, juggled a grubber for an eternity before the ball went to ground and Kennedy pounced.

Katoa raced away to complete a hat-trick in latter stages with only Nicho Hynes’ off night with the boot preventing the score from completely blowing out.

The Warriors desperately need engine-room reinforcements and Addin Fonua-Blake’s slated return next week will make a difference, while Josh Curran was solid in his return from a six-week layoff and will be better for the run.

Jones has declared he’s not afraid to make changes. There’s no question he needs to in the centres and arguably the halves.

Facing a full-strength Penrith next week is as tough as it gets…and a landslide result (and a ninth loss in 10 games) looms if the Warriors can’t get their defence in order.

Cronulla Sharks 38 (Sione Katoa 3, Ronaldo Mulitalo 2, Siosifa Talakai, Matt Moylan, Will Kennedy tries; Nicho Hynes 3 goals) defeated Warriors 16 (Reece Walsh, Wayde Egan, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak tries; Walsh 2 goals) at Moreton Daily Stadium. 

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